When my kids were little, they loved to watch the Wallace and Gromit animated films by Nick Parks. One was called “The Wrong Trousers,” in which Wallace the inventor realizes he’s been put into a diabolical pair of mechanical trousers.
When I’ve feeling particularly stiff these days, I sometimes feel as though my legs and hips are not my own, but rather some artificial set of bones, muscle, and tendons that somebody’s been tinkering with. Still, I think my body is much more functionally aligned now than it has been in years.
Now it’s a matter of rebuilding muscle strength and ingraining new movement patterns so that I can walk, run, skip, dance–and, of course, skate–in much more balanced, efficient, and easy ways. One of the things that’s hard about getting the movement patterns in place is that my default involves using the wrong muscles to overcompensate for the underdeveloped ones (most of them on my left side) that have not been firing correctly. I once told Laurie to call me “the queen of overcompensation!”
As I try to build up my muscles, one of the things I need to watch out for is what is elegantly known as “butt-clenching”: which is a dysfunctional tightening of the buttock muscles. Too much of this compresses the sacroiliac (SI) joint and creates back pain. Here’s some links to pages that describe this problem:
- Brooke Thomas, “To Clench or Not to Clench (Your Butt)”
- Vreni, “Butt-gripping and low back, SI joint, and hip pain”
- Diane Lee, “Butt-grippers, back-grippers, and chest-grippers: Are you one?”
As I read some of these descriptions, I think that this could well be me. When I do my balance exercises, I’ve tried to activate some of these gluteal muscles by clenching, and find it doesn’t really help–just makes me tight and wobbly, as opposed to just wobbly. Plus I feel it makes me turn out my legs from the hip, which throws my alignment totally off.
What seems to work to think about my gluteal muscles gently pushing into the top of the femur as if they are helping to drive the legbone forward. PT Sarah had me do this during one of my exercises, and I’ve tried it on the ice as well. This helps me line up the force of the glute contraction with the forward motion of the leg. If you look at this speed skater, you can see how the force of his impressive gluteal muscles drives his equally impressively-muscled skating leg forward. Glutes are activated, but not clenched!
I’m beginning to figure out how to move as if my legs hinged higher than I originally thought they were. This may seem a bit strange, but up until fairly recently I have been moving with a pronounced hitch in my side. So when I step forward on my left and move onto the right (or do a swing roll) it now feels as though my right side is coming up and over in a motion that moves my left hip right over the top of the left femur. Put another way, it feels like my legs are anchored and propelled through the top part of my buttocks, rather than the bottom part where the sit bones are.
I’ll report back in coming weeks with an update as to whether or not I’ve finally got the right trousers.